Israeli Water Technology Changing the World

Monday, December 12, 2016 10:47 AM

Israel H20: A JNF USA tour on the trail of Israel's water solutions

The annual JNF USA mission arrived in Israel for a week of tours throughout the country, with an emphasis on the field of water technologies. They toured from north to south, strengthened their connection to the land, and became more familiar with the various projects that they are partners in developing.

The mission visited Hula Lake Park, the Shamir Water Drillings, the Eshkol Purification Plant, Emek Hefer, the Yarkon River, the Sorek Desalination Plant and the Shafdan Wastewater Treatment Plant.

“The visit showed us the incredible developments in the field of water technology in Israel over the past decade,” said Robert Lembke, the tour chair. “Conferences on water took place in various cities in the United States, with the participation of thousands of people who are interested in solutions that were developed in Israel, such as runoff harvesting, effluents purification, desalination by reverse osmosis, and advanced irrigation methods. Our goal is to share this knowledge with people who are interested in it and with professionals in the field.”

Lembke, a resident of Colorado, noted that harvesting, saving and intelligent usage of water is also a challenge in Colorado, and some of the ideas developed in Israel have already been imported there. “Climate change affects precipitation, and we believe that Israeli technology can contribute to various countries around the world, encourage cooperation between Israel and her neighbors, and become a base for peace in the Middle East.”

Mission participants included Anne Juepner, Director of the United Nations Global Policy Centre on Resilient Ecosystems and Desertification, which is located in Nairobi, Kenya. “During our visit, we were privileged to see a variety of unique and interesting solutions that Israel successfully developed in the field of water, and also to exchange ideas with representatives from various countries,” she said, adding that “the United Nations aspires to encourage knowledge exchange and cooperation between all countries in order to promote sustainable development.’

Irrigating the Negev with the Besor Reservoirs

The group’s day in the Negev began with a view of the Besor reservoirs, guided by Ofer Brookstein, a KKL-JNF water and land engineer. He showed them the system of three reservoirs, which harvest purified effluents from the Shafdan Wastewater Treatment Plant and from the floodwaters of the Besor stream.

“These reservoirs make it possible for us to harvest the winter rainwater and to irrigate the fields in the summer,” Brookstein said. “They also help prevent sewage water from polluting the environment.”

Over history, the loess and sandy plains around the Besor stream knew very little agriculture, due to the region’s minimal amount of rainfall. The reservoirs built by KKL-JNF provide a stable source of water that enables agriculture to thrive.

“Without the reservoirs, there wouldn’t be agriculture in this region,” said Arye Lobel, a farmer in the Gaza border region, which grows 11,000 acres of citrus and other fruits, along with crops like carrots, potatoes and peanuts.

The southern Besor reservoir has a storage capacity of 4 million cubic meters. The capacity of the northern reservoir is 2.2 million cubic meters. The third reservoir is situated next to the streambed in order to harvest floodwater, and the water is pumped to the higher reservoirs. The reservoirs were built with the support of friends of KKL-JNF from the United States, the UK, Italy, Belgium and Germany.

From the scenic lookout over the reservoirs, it is also possible to see the beautiful scenery of the Besor stream, one of the largest in the Negev, whose storage basin spreads over an area of about 3,600 square kilometers.

Tributaries of the streams, including Hebron Stream and Beersheva River, drain the Negev mountains and the rainy area of the Hebron mountains.

On the average, there are about two to three flood events in the Besor stream every year, which channel about 8 million cubic meters of water to the stream. The suspension bridge that was built over the streambed offers a magnificent view of the floods.

Yedidia Harosh from the community of Shlomit met the group and spoke about the establishment of the Halutza communities with the support of friends of KKL-JNF from the United States and other countries. “We recently discovered ground water at a depth of 50 meters, and we hope to be able to pump the water for agriculture,” he said excitedly.

Children Collect Rainwater in Ofakim

The group continued to the Giva School in Ofakim to learn about the educational rainwater collection project there. Ido Reichman, partnerships director of the KKL-JNF scouting groups, explained that the water is harvested from the roofs of the school buildings, then stored in large containers and channeled to the bathrooms for flushing the toilets and watering a vegetable garden that the children take care of. Similar projects are being carried out in dozens of schools throughout the country.
“The goal is to educate children to use water wisely, and then they spread the word to their families and friends,” Reichman noted.

“It’s not enough to talk with children about saving water,” emphasized Eti Atali, the school principal. “It’s important for us that the children become active partners in a variety of environmental projects.”

Robert Chertkof from Baltimore has been involved in JNF activities for the past five years, and when he heard that there would be a tour to Israel whose theme was water, he joined immediately. “It’s impossible to really understand Israel without knowing about water,” he said. “Water affects all aspects of life – agriculture, industry, culture and education. The development of the country was based on water sources throughout history. Through the subject of water, one learns about the challenges that Israel faces, and about the initiative and creativity of its residents.’

Drip Irrigation in Hatzerim

During their visit to the Netafim drip irrigation company in Kibbutz Hatzerim, the guests heard how Israeli creativity made a worldwide change in how farmers water their fields.

“We founded Netafim simply because we didn’t have a choice, since we were struggling to be farmers in this dry desert region,” said Nati Barak, Netafim sustainability director. Today, the company is considered the world leader in irrigation, and its products are sold everywhere in the world, from advanced western countries to third world countries.

“The principle that our method is based on is that you water the plant, not the ground,” Barak added. “When a farmer doesn’t have enough water to irrigate his field, or when the damage of flood irrigation begins to adversely affect the ground, he comes to us.”

When the explanation was concluded, the group visited the kibbutz’s jojoba plantation, where they saw how drip irrigation works in the field.

“It’s fascinating to see how Israel deals with the water challenges it faces,” said Buzz Krovitz of Colorado, who joined the mission together with his wife Shelly.

The American delegation was joined by four representatives of the Thailand Water Authority, including Prayuth Graiprab, who said: “It’s very impressive to see how Israel deals with water. I believe that Thailand can benefit greatly from cooperating with Israel in this field.”

Planting in Beersheva River Park

The group’s day ended with a visit to Beersheva River Park. The park, which was developed with the support of JNF USA and friends of KKL-JNF from additional countries, transformed a neglected and polluted area into a beautiful green park, which has instigated a change in the leisure culture and economy of Beersheva and its environs. An artificial lake is currently being built, and the members of the mission surveyed the progress of the work as the tractors and trucks moved on the ground, creating clouds of dust.

“This site is an example of how KKL-JNF’s vision becomes reality,” said Liat Itzhak-Herzog, Director of KKL-JNF’s American Desk, at a ceremony that took place in the park.

Amir Mazor, KKL-JNF Negev Mountain and Arava Director, told the group about the recent fires that raged throughout Israel: “The trees here were planted by people, and we have an emotional connection to each and every one of them. It’s sad to see how a green forest turns black,” he said.

Dr. Clive Lipkin, a researcher at the Arava Center for Environmental Studies, described how Israel deals with stream pollution, and thanked JNF USA for its support of various projects, including monitoring the quality of water in Israel’s streams and in the Palestinian Authority, along with promoting the use of purified effluents for agricultural use by the Negev’s Bedouin community.

Dr. Robert Keehn, a doctor from Pikesvill, recited the Planter’s Prayer in English, and Shimi Shmooely, Chief of Staff of the Permanent Mission of Israel to the UN, read the prayer in Hebrew. After the prayers were recited, the time had come to roll up their sleeves and get down to the business of planting trees.

“I also live in the desert,” said Conrad Plimpton of Arizona, “and Ben Gurion’s vision of making the wilderness blossom fascinates me.”

“I have no doubt that this mission will help increase awareness about Israel’s huge contribution to the development of water sources for the benefit of the entire world, and also about JNF’s involvement in this important field,” said Talia Tzour-Avner, KKL-JNF Chief Israel Emissary to the USA. “After hearing lectures and reading books about this topic, the members of the mission were privileged to see Israel’s success with their own eyes, to experience it and to be moved by it.’